Nizhnesvirsky Zapovednik

For tens of thousands of water-oriented birds, this is a critical rest and refueling stop in long migratory flights between southern winter homes and far northern nesting grounds. It’s no less important to thousands of others which stay and nest or make permanent homes here—in all some 261 bird species—along with a flourishing mammal population that includes brown bears, wolves, lynx, and fierce wolverines.

Just 50 miles (80 km) southeast of St. Petersburg, Nizhnesvirsky protects 131 square miles (416 km2) around and in Lake Ladoga, one of the world’s largest lakes—136 by 52 miles (219 × 83 km) with average depth of 167 feet (51 m)—and with it a mosaic of muskeg bogs, sphagnum swamps, and taiga forest, the moist subarctic coniferous forest that begins where tundra ends.

Badgers and foxes dig deep nest burrows to raise young. Ermines, European mink, and pine martens thrive on rodents and other small prey. American mink, transplanted here, and furry, short-legged raccoon dogs, brought from eastern Siberia, both are widespread now. Half-ton moose wander through seasonally. Mountain hares nibble on willow shoots all year.

Ubiquitous beavers make more habitat for all, felling trees which then open up space for forage as well as providing hollow trunks for homes, building dams that create ponds which become homes for fish and feeding and nesting grounds for otters and wading birds. Fish species numbered 33 at recent count; with over 350 species of mushrooms in the woods.

But most notable are the enormous numbers of birds, starting in late April with arrival of tens of thousands of waterfowl—barnacle, white-fronted, and bean geese; puddle ducks as mallards, green-winged teal, garganey, northern pintails, northern shovelers; divers as tufted ducks, greater scaups, common and white-winged scoters. Whooper and Bewick’s swans enjoy shallow water’s edges. Great bitterns nest in reeds. Common cranes, which can forage while marshes are still snow-covered, gather in flocks of 50 or 60 in fall.

Corncrakes and spotted crakes are inconspicuously abundant in wet meadows. In fields are Eurasian curlews, whimbrels, black-tailed godwits, and common snipes, sometimes spotted redshanks, marsh sandpipers, bar-tailed godwits, Eurasian oystercatchers, and red-necked phalaropes. In woodlands are black grouse, white-billed capercaillies, hazel grouse, willow ptarmigans, Eurasian woodcocks.

The birdwatcher’s dream-list goes on—among owls, short-eared, common long-eared, eagle, Ural, tawny, great gray, northern hawk, and Eurasian pygmy; among passerines, Lapland buntings, horned larks, red-throated and meadow pipits, whinchats, grasshopper, river, marsh, booted, and reed warblers, reed buntings, and bluethroats.

Rare “Red Book” raptors include white-tailed eagles, ospreys, golden eagles. Rare, shy whitebacked woodpeckers find their required undisturbed woodlands here.